By Holly Hammersmith | Photos by Jim Baron
“I was as surprised as anyone that there was so much interest. Several of us knew there was a need for an inclusive group for women,” Carpenter says. “Eight hours after we launched it, we had 500 members already. By the end of the week we had more than 2,000 members.”
At the end of 2015 Carpenter, along with more than a dozen other women, helped found the multi-generational group, which strives to have no financial barriers to entry. And as the name suggests, the group is for women only. The Women’s Networking Group aims to help women “learn from the women who came before us, help the women who will come after us, and empower women in the economy.”
“We’re very grassroots and are just an informal coalition at this point, without membership dues,” Carpenter says. “We also see ourselves as a resource and referral source for established women’s programs in the community.”
The group’s first meeting took place in February and the group will continue to meet roughly once a month at The Music Box Supper Club, located on the West Bank of the Flats in downtown Cleveland. The February event featured one speaker, covered female entrepreneurship, and drew 140 people, Carpenter says.
In March The Women’s Networking Group offered a speed networking session with several speakers positioned at different “power networking tables,” Carpenter says. Speakers discussed women in politics, interviewing skills, how to take charge, mentorship, equality in the workplace, and more. About 100 women attended that event, she adds.
“So far both models have worked. We always want to make sure there is an opportunity for interactivity. We want to make sure women from across generations and industries connect,” Carpenter says.
The group’s Facebook page is its hub, according to Carpenter, who works as an independent public affairs consultant. Members join via personal invite or by requesting to join. Currently there are few rules for the group, but a handful of the founding women do moderate the discussion. Within the group, women seek out job leads, coordinate book clubs, share new business leads, and offer advice.
“We’ve had a lot of posts online, women seeking referrals for female vendors,” Carpenter says. “It’s really focused on women helping women.”
What makes the Women’s Networking Group different?
“There are a lot of great women organizations in Cleveland. I would say most of them are specific to a specific profession or ethnicity or status,” Carpenter says. “We really wanted to focus on developing a very inclusive group that helps women of all ages, ethnicities, income levels, and professions.”
The Women’s Networking Group is solely volunteer-driven. The group has no formal staff or budget. A charge of $10 per person is made at the group’s events to cover the venue and light appetizers. A cash bar is available at the events, which will likely continue to take place in the evening after work hours, Carpenter says.
The last two events took place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. but were not a hard stop or start, she says. Carpenter says the group will continue to meet in the near term at The Music Box, which provides a central local and accessible parking.
“First and foremost we wanted to have fun. Second we wanted to give women a voice and build their power in the workplace, and we wanted to provide networking opportunities,” Carpenter says.
Carpenter points out that members of the Facebook group do not have to attend the group’s meeting.
“You can just take advantage of the Facebook discussions,” she says. “Join the Facebook group and you will see what is coming. There is no staff, no budget, or organization — the Facebook group really runs itself. We are all doing this as volunteers, so it was really just an easy and a great way to have a discussion and make it very inclusive.”
The March meeting evolved as a result of feedback garnered at the group’s first meeting. Carpenter says attendees were asked to put stickers on a wall next to topics that interested them most. A call for volunteers to speak at future events also was made. Members of the Facebook group, which now total more than 4,700, also have provided referrals for future speakers, she adds.
The Women’s Networking Group sets out to supplement other networking groups in Cleveland, Carpenter says.
“I see a lot of synergies between us and other women groups. We don’t see ourselves as competition,” she says. “We see ourselves as a resource to get in front of a broad audience and also as a resource to share information about the women that are in our network.”
Attendees at the live events primarily have been from Cuyahoga County, but a few women have come from Lorain and Summit Counties as well as from Youngstown, Carpenter says.
For more information: search Women’s Networking Group-Cleveland on Facebook.